Holunape – He ‘Olu
Kīhei de Silva
They have a great name, if I do say so myself. Holunape. It means "swaying, resilient," as in ka holunape o ka lau o ka niu, the gentle swaying of palm fronds. It fits both their music and group identity. It suggests, right off, that these guys belong to an older day -- maybe a Kahauanu Lake Trio or Hilo Hawaiians kind of day -- and it gives a fan like myself hope for their long, long, longevity.
He ‘Olu (another highly appropriate name) is the title of Holunape’s long-awaited CD debut. "Long-awaited" is a publicist’s phrase that’s often applied indiscriminately to CD releases of all sorts, long-awaited or not. But anyone familiar with Holunape’s history -- its rebirth from the ashes of Kilinahe, its years of gigging, its support of other new-traditionalist hui hīmeni (‘Ale‘a, Keawe Lopes, Nā Palapalai, Ho‘okena, Pili Oha), and its string of impeccable Merrie Monarch performances for an array of hālau -- will agree to the appropriateness of both "long awaited" and "He ‘Olu."
The title, explained by Keikilani Ako in the album’s liner notes, applies to a "state of being" in which "we feel completely comfortable, satisfied, content, and at ease." Holunape has come to embody this ideal -- and they have done so by choice and hard work, not by luck or accident. Kama Hopkins, Kekoa Kaluhiwa, and Kanai‘a Nakamura lead lives like the rest of us: lives that are challenging, disappointing, rewarding, heart-breaking, re-affirming, hopeful. But as Holunape, they are committed to a group identity that is ‘olu and to music that is equally ‘olu. They are gentlemen and their music gentles us.
Of the 14 tracks on the album, four are newly composed (two by Kama, two by Keikilani), one is religious, and the rest are Hawaiian classics. My own fingers keep hitting the replay button for Johnny Almeida’s "Ka Hui Holo Pā‘ū," a heretofore unrecorded mele composed for the pā‘ū riding club to which Kama’s grandmother Momi Bee Kahawai‘ōla‘a once belonged. Holunape’s rendition of this song demonstrates the group’s uncanny ability to sound like itself while sounding, at the same time, like musical icons of old.
On this cut, the echoes of Almeida’s bouncy mandolin come dancing ‘round memory’s bend, as do hints of a back-and-forth, verse-and-chorus exchange between Johnny and Julia Nui. The effect is delightful and mesmerizing, as if we’re listening, with one ear, to a 21st century studio session and, with the other, to a live KGU radio broadcast of the late 1930s.
|He ho‘oheno kēia
No nā kuini holo lio
Me nā hoa holo lio, ‘eā
Ka hui holo pā‘ū
||This is something to cherish
For the horse riding queens
And other horse riding friends
The pā‘ū riding club
Other tracks on the album to which I find myself gravitating are: "Iā ‘Oe e ka Lā e ‘Alohi Nei," J. Nahinu’s tribute to Kalākaua’s world tour of 1881; "Moanike‘alaonāpua makahikina," Lena Machado’s mele inoa for Aunty Sally Wood Naluai; "Nene‘u," Abigail Pililā‘au’s mele aloha ‘āina for what is now commonly called "Pokai" Bay; and "Ka Pua o Ku‘u ‘I‘ini," Kama and Kekoa’s composition for Malia Petersen. The first three demonstrate Holunape’s capacity for faithfully conserving and transmitting the cherished mele of our kūpuna, and the fourth speaks to Holunape’s capacity for creating big, romantic ballads of the Ho‘okena sort.
Holunape’s strengths are many. The guys trade voice parts and instruments with equal ease, their harmonies are effortless, their ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i is ear-warming, and their grounding in tradition is deep and unwavering. They are, above all, nahenahe i nā pepeiao like ‘ole: easy to listen to from multiple perspectives. The new CD invites us old fans to refresh ourselves, at will, in the cool comfort of Holunape’s music. And He ‘Olu extends the same invitation to those who are as yet unfamiliar with their gracious, resilient, gentlemanly appeal. He ‘olu, a he ‘olu, a he ‘olu i‘o nō.